Saturday, October 15, 2011

Black Tower (BLACKTWR.WAD)

by Sverre Andre Kvernmo

Black Tower is the final map of the Cabal series to be included in id's Master Levels for Doom II. In the storyline, you're nearing the end of your long journey, this time confronting the lord of the Black Tower, former friend and Cyberdemon Chagrin, who leads the forces of Hell you once commanded. All you have to do is climb the Tower, the nexus of all of Hell's black magic and supernatural forces, slay your buddy, and escape. It's a task easier said than done, of course, as the Black Tower is more fully staffed than any entrenchment of the Cabal to date (except maybe the Temple of Death).

This map is massive. It encompasses the ground level of the Black Tower and its surrounding kingdom in Hell. Surprisingly, Chagrin keeps a well-manicured lawn. About the only notable features at first glance are a side-area housing the exit and, of course, the Black Tower. You can access the adjacent yards upon entering the tower, which appears oddly bereft of occupants. At the very least, Kvernmo has placed a grated-off sewer that terminates beyond your vision, creating the illusion of depth, much like the illusion of the tower itself. You'll have to solve a puzzle involving the extraneous areas before you can raise the staircase, which leads you to the top of the first floor and puts you into a difficult encounter. Being the focus of all of Hell's black magic, Kvernmo subjects you to a recurring motif, monsters that blink everywhere, back and forth, using teleporter lines.

The second floor's a pretty open room. You'll have some invaders coming in through the windows, but you'll get that in any open-air tower. While those threat sneak up on you, the immediate danger comes from the monsters situated around the center structure, especially the ones on the corner pillars. I must say that I dig that opening cage on the eastern side. After a neat little puzzle, you're on to the third floor, a more traditional layout with a number of rooms to navigate and one or two minor surprises. The fourth floor is a proper spectacle, dark and outfitted with some hanging gore and other obstacles to trip you up. Nothing really interesting battle wise.

No, that honor is reserved for the fifth floor, a teleport fight that ups the ante with spectres, barons, and then later, arch-viles. It's a neat fight that manages to avoid annoyance and gets a bit more intense with the addition of Hell's sorcerer elite. Finally, Kvernmo takes you to the top floor, a tense gauntlet on the tower's roof that culminates in taking on a Cyberdemon (Chagrin) in a space choked with arachnotrons. Sure, you've got cover, but you can't help but wish you had something with the power and speed of a rocket launcher with none of the drawbacks. The cramped area also makes it kind of tough to outfox your Hellish counterpart.

It's not over after you eliminate Chagrin, though! Once you've blown away the boss and grabbed the goodies, you'll have to make an appropriate exit. Chagrin is really more of a halfway point than anything, see, and Kvernmo has done a good job repopulating previous tower floors with new attractions to make the descent if not as lively then certainly more exciting than a leisurely climb downward would have been. Perhaps the most memorable spectacle you'll bear witness to is the tower's first floor literally carpeted with demons, perhaps explaining why the few rogue cacodemons bumping around have so much trouble getting to you.

While the tower's exterior isn't much to look at, it hardly matters since all of the detail goes into the interior, the main play area. Kvernmo has some great use of lighting, especially those tall windows. The use of the black glass creates a simple but effective look for the eponymous Black Tower, creating quite an imposing visual. Its burgeoning monster count puts it ahead of its contemporaries, excepting the aforementioned Temple of Death, but manages to pull out balanced, non-frustrating encounters with few "fuck you" traps. There are also a few tasty secrets to scrounge up to assist you on your perilous journey. It all adds up to an excellent map, perhaps the best of id's Master Levels for Doom II. Though I'm curious as to the identity of the author Kvernmo replaced, I'm glad he had to bow out, because his output has been top notch.


This post is part of a series on
id's Master Levels for Doom II


This post is part of a series on
Sverre Kvernmo's Cabal series

Bloodsea KeepDerelict StationBloodfloodThe Watchtower
Temple of DeathWe Who are About to DieThe Express Elevator to HellEye of the Storm
Mephisto's MaosoleumBlack TowerThe Image of Evil

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